It was Friday, September 7, 2001. Four-star General Tommy Franks was discussing the roles and responsibilities of CENTCOM, the American joint military command responsible for operations in the Middle East. He'd been in charge for a little more than a year.

"General," asked a young sergeant who'd raised her hand, "what keeps you awake at night?"

Probably one of the most thoughtful and perceptive commanders in American history, the general considered the question carefully.

"A terrorist attack against the World Trade Center in New York," he said. "That's what keeps me awake at night."


I love a man in uniform. Certainly it has something to do with those long parades on Memorial Day and the 4th of July when I was a kid, the cadence of the snare drums, the bugles shining in the sun. Maybe it’s because, as we've been told, a man is just a boy with more expensive toys, and boys are hard-wired to appreciate shiny things that go bang.

I took my older son (a year or two prematurely as it turned out) to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance here in Los Angeles. The tour encompassed an informative examination-through-diorama into how the Holocaust happened and how intolerance, if not genocide, to this day remains the weapon of choice in the "bayonet corners of the world." While we were waiting for the tour to begin, we walked through the hands-on museum, upstairs in the building. The boy flew, as though he were magnetized, to the manikin in the SS uniform at the far end of the hall. He was noisily appreciative, as I'm sure many German boys were. Heads turned and noses were looked down upon. The Nazis had the best uniforms ever, I guess, and somehow it mattered.

So, like the kid who's inherited my gene, I love uniforms. But I loathe the killing that coils itself within them. I protested Vietnam, yet like so many others, I went anyway. I am a luckily-living, fortuitously-breathing, happily-walking contradiction, and I’m not about to be able to explain why any time soon.

The professionalism that career soldiers exhibit impresses me. The generals I was privileged to meet in Vietnam in my capacity as court jester to American hegemony (many of them far younger then than I am now) were amazing men. They don’t hand out those stars for your collar and your car just because they like your personality. Generals pretty-much have their stuff wired tight. Because there’s always so much at stake.

In stark contrast to General Norman Schwarzkopf, the affable and verbally adroit quarterback in George Bush the First’s Super Bowl of a war in the Middle East back in the last century, General Tommy Franks, Bush the Younger’s man on the scene in both Afghanistan and Iraq this time around, was a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Although we caught glimpses of him on our television screens all through Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we recognized that he was taciturn and all business, until he published his autobiography, American Soldier, we knew almost nothing about the man. Tommy Franks and the people who granted him the power of death with impunity wouldn’t have had it any other way. I am fascinated and repulsed by George W. Bush’s ace in the hole, and you know what they say about a foolish consistency.

But never mind the hobgoblins of my little mind. What about the kid who grew up in the president’s former hometown of Midland, Texas, the unimpressive lineman on the high school football team who flunked out of college only to become the genius who launched the most sophisticated military machine ever invented against an enemy equipped only with small arms and the bright white light of their god? Who the hell is Tommy Franks anyway?

During the “combat phase” of George Bush’s nightmare in Iraq (you know, before we lost so many men both good and true), and before that, in the days when we were actually on the trail of the man who destroyed the World Trade Center, when we were chasing Osama bin Laden and his dialysis machine through the mountains of eastern Afghanistan the way you track a gut-shot deer, Tommy Franks was the four-star general who directly commanded U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) with two other men: George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Think of CENTCOM as the very expensive toy soldier set of this right wing oligarchy and you’ll be right on the money. At the time, back when we thought we knew what we were doing in Afghanistan, and when Iraq was just a dusty distraction, spokesmen at CENTCOM refused to answer questions about General Franks' life before the war. The military biographies extant did not even include the names of his parents, nor his religion.

The Department of Defense (Rumsfeld’s bailiwick) told us that “He’s had his bio out that he wants to put out. He has certain rights.” Pentagon spokesman Dan Hetlage expanded: “That’s a personal decision (to release personal information). It makes no difference (his religion). He takes his orders from the President. Would it make a difference if General Franks or General Hetlage were in command?”

Answering a question with a question, the tried-and-true Rumsfeld interview technique notwithstanding, I suppose that, yes, it would make a difference. ‘Cause Tommy Franks is hell on wheels I think.

He’s retired now, and he’s finally gotten around to writing his autobiography, American Soldier, an amazing document, as these things go, with plenty of color photographs of him, his wife, his mother, and those endless cocktail parties and teas that are the stuff of backstage life at the top of the career military food chain.

Everything about the man sneaks up on you, like the tactics of stealth and speed in the modern American army which, basically, he invented. He may be the most secretive general in American history, but when you finally get a sense of Tommy Franks, the man, you understand why many consider him as important a warrior as Eisenhower and Patton.


He was born June 17, 1945, in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, the only child of Ray, a construction worker, and Lorene, a seamstress. According to his autobiography, young Tommy Ray Franks inherited his native common sense and uncommon curiosity from his father, a hard-working man for whom no job was too difficult or too unimportant. Growing up in Midland, Texas, and attending high school with Laura Bush (who didn't remember him), young Tommy developed a love for fast home-grown cars. He and his dad restored a number of them, and the process of "hot-rodding," it can be surmised, is the cornerstone of Franks' extraordinary ability to analyze systems.

He was a self-professed late-bloomer in all things academic, flunking out of the University of Texas after two years of boozing and chasing girls. Ironically, in 1965, at the same time most university students were avoiding the draft, Franks joined the army. After stellar service as an enlisted man, he decided he and the military were a pretty-good fit, and he was admitted to the U.S. Army Artillery and Missile Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He was commissioned a second lieutenant on February 14, 1967, and for the next thirty-six years his career had only one trajectory—straight up.

Franks was the sort of officer the military dreams about. Blessed with extraordinary intelligence and native curiosity, he distinguished himself in every post he held. As a young Forward Observer in Vietnam, he developed new artillery techniques that dovetailed beautifully with the leaner, faster infantry that was evolving, thanks to helicopters and lighter, more modern weapons.

As a forerunner on the staff officer fast-track, he completed college with a degree in Business Administration, which he followed up with a Master of Science degree in Public Administration. Serving as an artillery battalion commander in West Germany during the Cold War, he distinguished himself in two ways: most importantly, he waged an aggressive fight to clean up the deadwood in the Army, the dopers and insubordinates left over from the Vietnam years. On a tactical level, he evolved new maneuvering techniques for tracked artillery, the weapons that were beginning to replace the old howitzers that served as infantry support during Vietnam.

He won his first star just in time to serve as Assistant Division Commander (Maneuver) of the 1st Cavalry Division during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Crediting his mentors in Vietnam for the idea, he accomplished an extraordinary feinting maneuver, right up the middle of the Iraqi front line, that managed to hold about twenty enemy divisions in place while General Norman Schwarzkopf accomplished his famous "Left Hook" tactic that virtually destroyed Saddam Hussein's army during its rush to retreat.

After ten more years of high-level postings, General Franks assumed the command to which, he believes, he had been born. The hot-rodder from Texas took Afghanistan, and then Iraq, with the lightest, most mobile, most exotically-equipped army in the history of warfare. Only History will tell us, truly, if this was an accomplishment or a tragedy.


One thing is certain: as a career officer, thriving at the highest level of military art and craftsmanship, General Tommy Franks was always right. He understood Vietnam, he understood the Cold War, he understood America's place in the world after Reagan. His job was not to HOLD Iraq, for example, after the invasion, merely to take the country in the first place. And so it is in the matter of Franks' thoroughly examining a scenario, of having lived a life of give-and-take within the highest echelons of American power, of knowing one's enemy, you might say, inside and out, that I feel compelled to write over three thousand words regarding this man of war as opposed to, say, a million words about a thousand other men of peace.

Because Tommy Franks, the man who spent almost forty years being right about such matters, believes that the next time there is a massive terrorist attack on American soil, the Bill of Rights will be suspended and our nation will fall under sway of martial law.

Slowly and surely, instead of just fading away as General Douglas MacArthur insisted all old soldiers must, Tommy Franks, a civilian now, is beginning to speak out in public. And in his folksy realistic understated way, what he’s got to say may give us pause.

As befits a life-long cigar-chomping war hero, he was interviewed by Cigar Aficionado magazine. Much upon his mind was the question of what would happen if terrorists acquired and used a biological, chemical, or nuclear weapon on American soil. “The Western world,” he said, “the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we’ve seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment that we call democracy.”

Practically speaking, he continues, “It means the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western world – it may be in the United States of America – that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution. Two steps, very, very important.”

This, of course, is every Liberal’s nightmare, and speaks directly to the growing controversy surrounding the knee-jerk passage of the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) by what can only be called a panicked congress. But a precipitous erosion of constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights, according to Franks, is really the least of the matter. He’s the first high-profile American to speculate that the Constitution would be replaced by a military form of government. In some circles this is termed fascism. In order to save the country, in other words, it will be necessary to destroy it.

There are precedents, students of literature will note. The Nine Years’ War in Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World precipitated the seizure of power by the world reformers. In George Orwell’s 1984, Oceania was in a perpetual battle with a protean enemy that “always represented absolute evil.” Both authors understood that the mind of the despot feeds on insecurity, and it would appear that uninformed Americans seem to be willing to sacrifice traditional "inalienable" rights in search of a little guaranteed stability.

George W. Bush's administration has begun to take steps towards realizing the implementation of the 20th century literary dystopian nightmare. Attorney General John Ashcroft, eager to capitalize upon what can only be called Congressional Confusion and/or panic, has been eager to see the bill called Patriot Act II become law. Only after the bill was leaked to the Center for Public Integrity was it understood that provisions for stripping American citizenship and the secret detention of citizens were included.

“It’s not in the history of civilization for peace ever to reign,” says General Tommy Franks. “Never has in the history of man....I doubt that we’ll ever have a time when the world will actually be at peace.”

Tommy Franks Curriculum Vitae
  • 1967—Commissioned Second Lieutenant, Artillery, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

  • Battery Assistant Executive Officer, Fort Sill.

  • Forward Observer, Aerial Observer, and Assistant S-3, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery, US. 9th Infantry Division, Republic of Vietnam.

  • Fire Support Officer, 5th Battalion (mechanized), 60th Infantry, Vietnam.

  • 1968—Commander, Cannon Battery, Artillery Training Center, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

  • 1969—Attended University of Texas at Arlington under the Army's Boot Strap Degree Completion Program. Graduated in 1971 with a degree in Business Administration.

  • 1973— Following attendance at the Artillery Advance Course, commanded 1st Squadron Howitzer Battery, Squadron S-3, Second Armored Cavalry Regiment, West Germany. Also commanded the 84th Armored Engineer Company and served as Regimental Assistant S-3.

  • 1976— After graduation from Army Force Staff College, served as an Army Inspector General in the Investigations Division at the Pentagon.

  • 1981— Commanded 2nd Battalion, 78th Field Artillery, West Germany.

  • 1984— Attended the Army War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and received a Master of Science degree in Public Administration at Shippensburg University.

  • 1985— Deputy Operations Officer of III Corps, which included most of the Army's heavy divisions based in the United States.

  • 1987— Commander and Chief of Staff, Division Artillery, U.S. 1st Cavalry Division.

  • 1990— Assistant Division Commander (Maneuver), 1st Cavalry Division during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

  • 1991— Assistant Commandant, Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

  • 1992— Director, Louisiana Maneuvers Task Force, Office of Chief of Staff of the Army, Fort Monroe, Virginia.

  • 1994— Commanding General, G3, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea in South Korea.

  • 1995— Commander, 2nd Division, Korea.

  • 1997— Commander, Third Army/Army Forces Central Command, Atlanta, Georgia.

  • 2000— Commander in Chief, United States Central Command.

  • 2003—Retired after declining Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's offer of U.S. Army Chief of Staff.

American Soldier, General Tommy Franks with Malcolm McConnell, ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins, New YORK, 2004. Gen. Franks Doubts Constitution Will Survive WMD Attack John O. Edwards, From Tommy Franks, a doomsday scenario
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